"No, you can't help me," Dash frowned as he put a massive boot on Williams' bowl-shaped haircut and sent him down the Troll Pole, "Get down there and hole up with Grease Monkey in the fucking garage already. Greasy's gonna brain you with a freakin' big-assed wrench if you do anything other than sit down there, drink Gatorade and watch his freakin' soap operas, you hear?!"
Dash had called forth a war council with Captain, Dagger, and the Crucible students he had kidnapped/press ganged into his service. Williams, all but sensing that this was a learning experience beyond any he could ever hope for with the Order, had immediately leapt to the chance to be Dashs' ipso-facto servant, with Magus Tourmaline as their scribe and seer, the twins hanging on as spell advisers due to their specialization with aggressive magical attacks.
The traitor, Jennings, remained locked up but taken care of in a bleak, windowless room in a series of them set in the basement level, her needs seen to but her freedom restricted only as far as Dash cared to ever remember her, a point that Williams made his own responsibility. Pressed as she was to him under duress he was still the kind of man who took responsibility for his charges, and even if he hadn't chosen Jennings personally she was still a part of his team.
The mission wasn't over yet, a point that Dash had made to him shortly after the war council had convened and he had immediately trussed up the Crucible students, a whirl of motion and rope before tossing them into the emergency exit that led directly throughout the Shop and into the hidden underground garage to be babysat by their resident mechanic, the man who oversaw the modification and repair of every vehicle they had at their disposal.
Within the secret depression set in western wall of the Shop itself lay two firehouse-style sliding poles that led directly to the garage, dubbed "the Troll Poles."
The twins dropped like boulders into the unyielding, powerful arms of the short, Mexican mechanic, his black Mechanix gloves and combat boots fitting in well with his tight, grease-covered overalls and wifebeater t-shirt. Grunting as he caught them despite their bulk, the golden-eyed young man tossed them to the side, catching Tourmaline with a quick grin before tossing her onto the twins with an equal brusqueness.
Williams, on the other hand, held tight to the pole with his gloved hands, growling at Dash, "But...but you need us, sir! We can help you, they're going to-"
"Yeah yeah yeah, they're going to come at us with a strike force of real power and I'm going to break all their toys. Get down there, keep yer damn fool head down and stay SAFE, you fool!"
Williams yelled inarticulately as he forcibly slid down the pole and into Greasy's welcoming arms, partaking of the same unceremonious dumping onto the floor his comrades had also enjoyed.
Dash saluted sharply before sliding his palm against the wall, injecting a small amount of ki into it in order to activate the locking mechanism, the depression closing off and once again looking like part of the wall. Dash wiped his palms against his combat fatigues and spoke aloud, "Control? Make sure they stay down there, would ya? Also, let the gargoyles know to stay on high alert but take on only challenges from the rooftops - everyone else just let 'em in. I can handle 'em."
Accepting Controls' grunt of assent Dash made his way to the second level and into the kitchen to prepare himself, awaiting the group of mages that would attempt to storm the Shop. Preparing his fifth roast beef of the day, Dash began to expertly dice brown and red potatoes, carrots, onions as well as placing bell onions and baby carrots in another bowl, each one gathered and kept separate for easier addition - with a mind that constantly regenerated, Dash had a problematic short term memory that was sometimes as sharp as the spikes on his elbows and knees, and other times could be wonky. Though he was far from useless or rendered handicapped by such memory issues, he had long since developed a system of cooking and dealing with his daily work that allowed for his problem: his ever-present smartphone, voice-activated and constantly recording, lay atop the countertop as he spoke aloud to it, a function he simply would not simply surrender to Control. He had long since grown comfortable with this arrangement, and he took whatever creature comforts he could find these days.
He chuckled as he heard the three mage-assassins crash into the building through one of the walls, immediately coming upon the first set of traps he had left for them.
"Y'see, Control? The one thing magicker types always forget is to check for tripwires and bear traps!" Dash laughed to himself as he set the roast in the black-panelled oven, his humongous hands encased in custom-ordered oven mitts fitted specifically for his size: yellow with red chicks over them, a bad joke of Franks'. Dash shook his head and took them off, sitting down at the dining room table to sip from a bottle of root bear as he listened in on the mage-assassins's maddened escapade, tripping one after another of the simple traps and narrowly escaping harm. He grinned at their growing frustration, murmuring, "Don't need to be an empath to enjoy THAT kinda mad-on, I tell you hwut!"
He held up a hand as the three stumbled up the stairs, glaring at him: all three wore nondescript black tunics that were belted at the waist, black leggings and soft shoes making up their ensemble. Unlike the students sent after him earlier, he could tell they were the genuine article: the female lead, slightly shorter than her male distaff, carried herself with a calculating air, one that immediately took in the scene before her and came to a conclusion. Long, wild red hair (made so by an explosive trap that sent shrapnel about the air - Dash realized she had taken some of the heat damage but the shrapnel had bounced off of a quickly flung magic shield) framed a face that would normally be considered cute if not for the cruel sneer, olive-colored skin and dark green eyes that took everything in at a glance. Leaning against her, his left leg left in ruins from the bear trap, her first male counterpart kept the bowl haircut of a student but had chosen to tattoo his face with wild tribals that ran down his sideburns and along the line of his jaw. Ice blue eyes, blonde hair and pale skin bespoke of any number of Eurotrash origins, and though he winced with each step determination glinted within his small eyes.
The third caused Dash to curse silently at himself: the third was an elf, their fair, long platinum hair and pointy, lobeless ears underneath a large black cowl. Dash considered and in the next instant upgraded the assassin to half-elf, snatching up a piece of useless information from the past: the Elfheim took care of their own, and while they worked glove-in-hand with the Order of Magi they never truly sent fullbloods to them for teaching, preferring to instead give half-elves the chance to learn from both cultures.
All three carried black staves of gnarled wood, symbols of their trade and Dash knew immediately from the files he had been sent that they were of the Valken Household, one of the leading houses of the Order.
"Welcome, welcome! I hope you're able to stop and think now that you've come across more mundane stuff, yah?" Dash chuckled, crossing one leg over another and looping his extraordinary hands over his spiked knees, "So. Give up and I'll go easy on ya. Drop the black staves, you'll get 'em back once everything is over and done with, and you can enjoy a nice meal with me before I officially declare you prisoners of the Shop. Orrrrrr-"
The three suddenly whirled into action, two of them literally spinning into place: the woman to the other side of the injured man, placing him in the center and the half-elf dropping their staff to touch tips with the other two, the staffs co-mingling energies and immediately launching the most basic of attack spells, the Mage Bolt.
Dash groaned at the cliched start, weighing his options as the purple and green energy combined, growing larger in a ringed orb before hurtling at him at light speed. Within one second and the next he grinned, a battle plan formed in his mind only to be caught in genuine surprise as the orb suddenly exploded, beams of magical energy spearing through his body and hurtling him out of his seat and back into the area next to the kitchen, his hammock in shambles as he landed in a crumpled heap against it.
The injured assassin sighed and leaned heavily on his staff as all three of the artifacts powered down, currents of ice blue energy coalescing about them. The leader of the three immediately pulled out a cellular phone and began to dial into it as the half-elf strode towards Dash confidently.
The woman frowned for a moment, cursed to herself and re-dialed the number before speaking into it, rubbing at her injured comrades back, "Yeah? Hello? Yes, this is Zero-One, code Alpha Nine. Please tell Patriarch that the target has been silenced and we shall begin assimilation of the Shop in-" she stopped, realizing her half-elf partner was simply standing in front of the downed body, the dining room table blocking her line of sight. Calling out she held the phone to the side, preparing her staff just in case, "Hey...hey! Rubes, you okay?"
"Patriarch," a gravelly voice called back, "Is that what you call him? Jerome Valken?"
The injured man's groan matched the half elf as he crumpled forward, a massive claw clutching at their right side and hip as a complete horrorshow fresh out of their greatest nightmare began to rise from the ground, the twitching muscle mass and spilled blood, flowing in reverse, of the Troll completely visible as he continued to heal, "I liked that. One of you...this one here...has a pesky ability to add effects to spells, huh? Bet it took a long time to learn that little trick. Too bad Frank's hit me with worse, y'know," Dash grinned, the other half of his face slowly regenerating back to normal, the singular bone of his skull bleached white from the blast, "I was going to suggest that we just do this the easy way or the easier way. Looks like you want me to do this the FUN way though, huh?!"
The half-elf cried out as Dash crushed their ribs and hip bones with one flex of his powerful grip, backed as it was by the trollish strength he had begun tapping into. Tossing the half-elf aside like so much tissue paper Dash laughed wildly as the leader of the trio rushed him, his intuition having already seen this outcome as she began to whirl about, striking at him with the staff while charging a spell with her free hand. Blocking the staff strikes easily with the scaled armor of his forearms and knees, he laughed in her face as he locked her staff up with one hand, his free hand reaching for the table as he roared, "C'MON! DO IT! SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT, GIRLIE! WHAT OTHER SPELLS DO YOU GOT IN YOUR BABBY BOTTLE, HUH?!"
The woman screamed in fury and slammed her glowing palm into his chin, an icy-blue circle of magic, eldritch writing writhing within the circle's edge, erupting around her feet as she launched a fully-charged and properly cast Mystic Bind spell against him, intent on trapping him in place and taking advantage of the trolls' fabled weakness to energy. The circle rotated thrice before exploding into tiny shards and she staggered, realizing with a horrible finality that something terrible had happened during the process.
The troll's eye glared at her as he grinned, showing off to great effect his row upon row of jagged, wicked sharp teeth, "Oh. Ohhhhh. Oh boy. That tickled."
The mage-assassin took a halting step back, incredulity naked and stark in her eyes, "No. Noooo. The information didn't lie! You're obviously a troll...why haven't you fallen? Why are you still STANDING? Why haven't our spells taken effect! That was a higher-levelled magic spell, you should be dropped like a sack of hammers!"
"Sack of hammers? Whatever happened to the thee's and thou's, eh?" Dash leaned back slightly, holding an arm out from his side and lowering his head slightly, his massive hand slowly unfolding open to its' fullest extent, claws extended, his eyes slighty shadowed as the injured assassin continued chanting his spell behind the woman bathing the room in an electric blue light of rising magical power, "You people have no style. And if you think I'm anything like some Grim Brother's troll, you've got another think comin', lady! I'm the co-owner of the Shop, and not even Frank knows the extent of what I can do!
I've been beaten by better than you, and he ain't even a specialist in Combat Magia, nonetheless! To HELL with you!"
Screaming in furious frustration, the woman leapt at Dash, grabbing him by the back of the head and setting her feet against a hip and a muscular thigh as she slammed spell after spell directly into his face, a small kernel of fear worming into her guts as she watched each spell slide around the glowing red aura that surrounded his form, his Ki Shield activating to gently deflect and buffer the various spells she hit him with. Dash gave a wicked laugh as he dislodged her with a single shake, the woman landing heavily on her feet as she fought to regain her balance.
Dash roared a battle cry, his kiei stunning the woman for a split second as he hurtled the table single-handedly in an arc over her, slamming it directly into the injured assassin behind her, his chanting halted in a pain-filled cry as he fell before the oblong, heavy wood.
"NO! PRESTON!" The leader cried out, turning to face him for a moment before whirling back, her own intuition telling her truthfully her instinctive reaction to look at her injured comrade just cost her her life.
Dash crash-landed against her, his claws and spikes retracted but hitting her with the full force of his scaled, armored hide as he cannonballed into her. Slamming into the floor itself, she gasped, eyes wide open as pain and shock nearly forced her to pass out despite the training of the Valken House.
Rearing back and slamming his claws forth in a fluid, gracefully violent motion, he dug them into the floor around her, leaning in to snarl close enough to her face that she could feel the saliva dripping down his jagged teeth, "You're mine. You belong to the Shop. You just got OWNED, darlin', somethin' HARD!"
Screaming in pure fright the woman began to babble spell after spell, slamming them into him at point-blank range only to fall further into terror as they slid harmlessly over and around his body, ricocheting throughout the room. For a second his Ki Shield glowed a bright, virulent red before dying down again, his chuckle harsh enough to be felt by her as he growled, "Give up. All you're doing is pushing me to berserk, and if I do that I'm going to eat you allll up little Red," he laughed evilly at his own joke.
She shivered in naked terror, her beautiful countenance ashen while her primal mind fought for supremacy. Gulping she nodded quickly, swift to grab onto any mercy considering the situation.
Dash brought his maw closer to her face, causing her to shrink back further into the floorboards as he growled, "That's not enough. Not. Enough! Say it. I want you...," his dark green eyes began to take on a laser light reddish tinge, his voice dipping lower an octave as he continued, "...to...say...it."
For a moment her eyes widened with further fright, her lips beginning to form the phrases he required, "I...I...we...g...give..."
Dash blinked and gasped, backing up as the room lit up in an orange blaze. For a moment her injured comrade stood, his staff held upright, the magic circle underneath him spattered and covered in blood rent directly from his own self-inflicted disembowelment, "SONIA! LIVE! WE WON'T BE BEATEN BY...BY THIS..TROLL!!!!"
Dash growled, his back bowing and unleashing each claw and spike he could muster as he recognized the glowing blue mystic writing of the circle itself, his large green eyes widening in pure horror, "Oh...oh no. Oh SHIT!"
The upper floor of the Shop burned.
Without the brownies and lesser Fae to massage and manipulate the natural conflux of energies of the Shop, there remained nothing to stop or gently guide the fire to locations where it would be easier to deal with. As a result, various patches of the upper floor burned while others remained merely scorched or untouched at all.
The Fire Elemental roared its' challenge, hunkering down on its' fists as the flames danced brighter. Humanoid in form, roughly that of the young mage-assassin whose body had been consumed by the essence of fire itself, it's bright flames burned hotter due to the Blood Magia used to summon it, sacrificing the man's life to empower the creature with his very soul. Stuck in the living room segment of the upper floor, the two remaining mage-assassins shrank back against the floorboards, knowing full well the nature of the beast that stood before them, able to devour them just as easily, unable as it was to determine friend from foe.
The creature was crazed, maddened by bloodlust and the Magus's dying thoughts.
Hopping from the ball of one massive, scaled foot to the other Dash grinned, his maw stretching the limits of his face as he made a 'come on' motion with his fingers, "C'mon baby. Let's dance."
Skittering to the side at first, the Fire Elemental leapt high into the air, it's clawed flames reaching out for Dash. Rushing to get out of the way, the young woman fell to the ground as her half-elf cohort slammed into her, covering her body with his at the expected attack.
Concentrating, Dash grinned as he reached behind himself for his ever-present case, unleashing his favorite Artifact weapon: the Big Boy Bat. Three solid feet of silver wrapped around a graphite core, worked on professionally by Frank Todd himself to allow Dash the ability to channel his own ki energy through it in a powerful wave attack. Against a foe as swift as the Fire Elemental, this would normally be an issue - the wave itself could be seen coming and dodged if properly timed.
In the middle of the air though, the Fire Elemental could only look on helplessly as Dash ripped the Big Boy out of it's casing and roar out, "GUERILLA GORILLA POUND~!" Glowing with blazing red ki energy, he slammed the kinetic wave directly into the Elemental, bloodlust surging through his veins as he laughed victoriously.
Looking up at the Fire Elemental, Dash's eyes widened slightly in shock as the entire bat and the wave of energy passed through the creature, doing absolutely no visible damage whatsoever.
It's not even there! He thought wildly for a fraction of a second, It's like the attack didn't even freakin' score!
The next fraction of a second all thoughts flew from his mind as pain, sharp and searing, ripped through him. Screaming inhumanly Dash felt his arms and ribs cave in fiercely as the Elemental pounced on him hard, wrapping its' own long arms around him and drawing him in close. Amidst the overpowering smell of bubbling, cooking troll muscle and flesh the still-human part of Dash frantically fought as training took over - he began to slam his forehead into the Elementals' face, ignoring the pain as he felt satisfyingly solid impacts score.
Swaying about, the Elemental let go of Dash for the brief moment he needed - while it grabbed at him, he vaulted off of it, horribly burning his feet. Taking a moment to allow his healing factor to kick in, he realized it was working slower than usual, his weakness to flame beginning to deaden his regenerative ability. Taking stock of his resources as the Flame Elemental sized the situation up, he realized that the Guerrilla Gorilla Pound had indeed wounded it, only not enough to slow it down.
Fine then...let's see how it likes it Full Force!
Feeling a little better, Dash backed up slightly, giving the mage-assassins time to put further distance between themselves and the battle. Giving them a moment more Dash rushed forward, tackling himself shoulder-first into the Fire Elemental and driving it physically back towards the staircase. Answering roar-for-roar, Dash ignored the intense pain as he felt his body bubble and catch aflame even as he drove the Big Boy, fully charged, into the creature.
FULL! FORCE! IMPAAAAACT!!!!
For a moment the bright flames became extinguished, revealing the burnt and charred humanoid form of the creature as the room became awash with red highlights and purple hues, the kinetic and magical energies colliding with an explosion of color as Dash expended the final two charges within the artifact at full-blast, point-blank range.
Dash frowned as he noted the melted handle, all that was left of the Big Boy artifact bat, left in his hand as the Elemental lit aflame once again. Looking back at the creature with a tired look of exasperation, Dash grumbled aloud, "I don't like you," then grunted as the creature knocked him away, sending him sailing through the air with a double-fisted backhanded blow.
Flying into the kitchen area he slammed against the back wall and landed in a heap, grunting only once as several cupboards opened up and deposited a wave of pots and pans onto him.
The Elemental turned to his previous cohorts, the half-elf gasping for air and coughing up blood, the woman shaking her head in a silent no as the Elemental began to advance onto them. Rubes began to draw himself up, a weak, flickering magic circle appearing around the two of them as he summoned up enough energy to draw up an incredibly weak Mage Shield.
"Magus Tennyson, it's been fun," Rubes grinned at his leader, his androgynous features marred by the blood streaming out of the corners of his lips, the exertion of casting even this much starting to take its' toll on him, "In the very least I can do this much for you, ma'am."
Magus Tennyson gripped at his shoulders, gathering the material of his robe in her fists, about to snarl an encouragement...then gave up at the last second, her every fiber relaxing as she accepted his sacrifice.
"Then go with the Patriarch's blessing, Magus Rubes. May you ever honor the Valken ho-"
"YO! FLICK MY BIC!"
The Flame Elemental turned, genuine surprise marring its' fiery feature as Dash slowly unfolded himself from the ground, his humongous hands clutching a pair of oversized, cast-iron frying pans far too large for normal human hands but custom-ordered to fit his oversized mitts.
He grinned, a vision of slowly healing carnage as he banged the two gigantic frying pans together with a satisfyingly loud clang before growling, "Come get some."
Roaring out with its' many-throated voice, the Fire Elemental brachiated towards Dash with a swiftness, slamming its' knuckles into the ground before loping forward as its' arms elongated, reaching out to give Dash a final, fiery embrace when for the first time in its' long life a brief glimmer of thought cut through its' primal, baser fury.
Between one second and the next as it reached out for Dash, it's entire field of vision shifted violently 90 degrees to the right, the rest of its' body following as mystic runes erupted along the pans' special, flame-resistant coating as it crashed into the wall over the Shop's expensive oven.
Clanging the frying pans twice once again, Dash grinned as they activated fully, the Artifact frying pans reacting to his replenishing ki energy reserves.
The Fire Elemental shook its' head, taking in the new angle to the situation as Dash's burns healed up, his regeneration accelerating as it fought off the excess damage from the fiery attack. Glowing for a moment, the Elemental breathed deeply before beginning to heat itself up further, scorching the oven it sat on before settling heavily to its' feet, leaving a fiery trail behind it as it rushed Dash with a sudden intense acceleration.
Expecting such a move, Dash swung heavily with first one frying pan then the other, sending the Elemental staggering back to the center of the second floor with a series of lefts and rights. Leaping up slightly he brought a pan square atop the creatures' head, sending it one knee.
Grabbing at his wrist, Dash screamed as the Elemental stumbled forward, driving him back with a sudden surge of strength as it battered at his broad chest with clumsy strikes of its' flailing arm. Flailing back with greater precision, Dash was able to block most of the strikes but fell backwards before the Elementals' surprisingly inspired onslaught, giving it the chance to get back to its' feet.
Making the most of its' advantage it grabbed Dash by the shoulder, its' fiery grip clutching deep into the Trolls' single-fused bone, and its' throat expanded as it gathered liquid flame within its' gullet, preparing to return the favor to Dash with a point blank volley attack of its' own.
Dash, on the other hand, had other ideas, slamming the Artifact cast iron frying pan directly into its' gaping maw the moment it split open, forcing the volley of liquid flame to run around it and down its' jaws ineffectively. Letting go of Dash the Elemental raised it's face skywards, scrabbling at its' throat with its' own claws in an effort to rip the Artifact through its' very being in order to rid itself of the Artifact even as it glowed within it, causing further damage to it.
The mage-assassins screamed as they scrabbled out of its' fiery path, sparks and gibbets of flame raining from the Elementals' form as it shook and staggered about, making it's way blindly back to the kitchen.
Finally hacking and coughing the Artifact out of its' throat, the Elemental looked up from where it crouched to be greeted with Dash, his mid-section twisted around like a tightly-wound coil, his rubbery muscles and single-bone skeleton more than accommodating, his recent burns dulling the pain with a kind he had come to get used to since the start of the fight. His claws sunk deep into the wall, the frying pan clenched between his jagged teeth, and he grinned wide around it as he spotted the Elementals' recognition.
Grinning fiercely Dash let go of the wall and gripped the pan with both hands in one impossibly swift motion, his leg muscles nearly exploding as he tilted forward and bashed the Elemental multiple times, each strike faster and harder than the last before driving the back of the creature's head deep and hard into the flooring.
The Elemental struggled and kicked, it's head nearly buried into the flooring as the rest of it's body finally caught up to the damage inflicted to it. Gasping once the Elemental finally passed out, its' body relaxing. Spinning the pan by the handle expertly, Dash caught it and held it over the creatures' still flaming body, panting aloud as he reached out to the refrigerator, acquired two eggs, cracked them professionally with a flourish into the frying pan and holding it over the Elementals' cooling body. Looking over to the two stunned, shocked, and brutalized mage-assassins he panted aloud, "Hey...you guys want some cream freeze on yer eggs?"
"It..." the Fire Elemental croaked, stunned into sentience from the attack it suffered, "It's...pronounced...creme...fraiche."
Off-handedly Dash took up the second frying pan and slammed it into the Elemental's face, knocking it out completely before returning to cooking the eggs over its' body, drizzling creme fraiche over the yolk, "Yeaaaaah. Cream Freeze!"
The two mage-assassins shivered, huddled under a warm blanket and laid out upon a goose-down bed. Shortly after the fight Dash had stripped them of their artifacts, gear, items, and even clothes, forcing them to stay on the ground as he saw to their wounds and laughed off their attempts to fight him off.
"You're both tired, scared, and definitely hurt. Do you see what happens when you mess with Demon-backed magic? Jeez, stop squirmin', Elf boy, or I'll gank the both of you and just put you out of my fuckin' misery."
Apologizing for the accommodations, he had them locked in an actual guest bedroom on the first floor, setting some of the gargoyles and the novices to clean up the upper floor and help put out some of the magical fires while he grilled his newly-acquired captives.
Untying them personally, he allowed his freshly-healed bulk to fill the doorway as he crossed his arms and glared at them.
"Okay, look, you. You're my captives. You oughta know how this goes - you've got SOME clemency, but after that little confirmation upstairs, I really can't trust havin' youse guys run around free what with all that Demon Magia and Thaumaturgy Magia trainin' in ya. Now, I know you guys are just going to clam up or kill each other and give me even MORE of a headache if I grill ya, but you saw what I did to yer friend, and now I gotta go exorcise his ass. I'm going to leave you be, but I'm STILL going to claim ransom on all three of you, and so long as you pipe down and rest in here, I'll happily feed you and let you use the facilities and what-not before releasing you to the Order, safe and sound. You're guests of the Shop, but that ends at this door, you hear?"
Forking two fingers at each one of them before pointing at his own eyes, he turned to close the door only to stop as the Magus Tennyson lifted herself up to a sitting position with a strained groan, "W-wait."
Dash stood stock-still in the door frame, looking at her out of the corner of his eye as she continued, her red hair hanging lank about her tired face, "We're only the second stage. The final stage is going to be the whole cadre of the Valken House assassins, come to claim you. Not the Shop, just you, Daniel Hopkins."
For a moment the troll looked up in thought, then suddenly broke out in a feral smile, "Well then...I'll be sure to give them the best reception I can! Never let it be said the Shop ain't great at hostin' a party, yeah?"
Laughing, Dash left the two would-be assassins to their comfortable cell, the single lock turning but also activating other locks that kept them securely trapped in the room and separated from base reality. Sonia sighed, feeling mixed feelings at their current situation, the memory of the last battle still fresh in her mind. Frozen by terror and brutalized by the drawn-out fight, she nevertheless reviewed the impressive arrangement and the combat prowess of the troll. They had been warned of the second Shopkeeper, but nothing at all had prepared them for the simple traps and his own mid-combat ingenuity!
The Fire Elemental, backed by the demonic energies unleashed by her Blood Magic using cohort, staggered to and fro about the living room segment of the upper floor area, spewing liquid flame here and there out of it's form. She dragged Rubes to the side, kicking over the large coffee table in an effort to keep something between the Elemental and themselves, the half-elf unable to summon up enough strength to move himself quickly. The Elemental banged into the coffee table then careened to the other side, lighting the black leather couch on fire, and though she kept an eye on the marauding creature it was the trolls' activities that caught her attention.
For he had begun to wind himself up at the torso, digging claws and talons into the floor itself, the wall, other furnishings, whatever was closest that would allow him to keep the tension as he wound himself around and around, pacing and stalking the Elemental as it weaved its' way from the living room area to the kitchen, lighting a humongous hammock on fire as it flailed about and finally got the frying pan out of it's throat, a strange enough item to make an Artifact but one she was glad to see.
Then it all made sense to her as the troll let go of the wall, grasped the second frying pan with both hands, and beat the Elemental to the ground with a series of strikes as his torso unwound itself, delivering blows at such a speed she could hardly keep up. Panting, the troll asked them an incredulously nonsensical question, then slammed the final blow to knock the Elemental out when it corrected his word.
Then the Troll ambled towards them, his talons flexing and that strange laserlight back in his eyes as he licked at his claws with a long, rough tongue.
He grinned and growled at her, "So...you were going to say somethin'?"
That the troll had abided by his word after she vocally surrendered meant little: the House of Valken had a zero-tolerance policy towards traitors and failures, and unless more was done not only her life but her friends' and companions' life was also at stake. Musing darkly, she jumped, startled as she realized she had started to doze off only to be awakened fully when the door closed behind the visitor.
Williams grinned amiably at her, "Hey, Sofi. Rubes awake?" He set down a tray carrying two bowls of rich, well-made beef broth, the smell and flavor enhanced with scallions and garlic salt, "Mister Hopkins says you're to both drink this down. It's the very same healing broth he makes Mister Todd drink whenever he's hurting after an assignment, save it's missing a few special ingredients. Still, it'll work all the same and will help you with your hunger, in the very least."
"So. You've thrown your hat into their camp that deep then, Magus Tyler Williams?" Sofia frowned hard at him, "Or should I say Tremor...Warren Tremor?"
Wiliams' impassive eyes gave away no emotion as he took a seat from the nightstand next to the bed and sat down heavily, sighing as he crossed his arms, "Fine then. I guess it's time to reveal all the cards, or what I trust from you and your friend is all the cards. I take it you got curious when I didn't join your group then, Magus Sofia Bandalahar?"
"We played together as kids, and even got through Crucible together. Of course I'm going to think something's up when you hung back a year," Sofia frowned, "And just call me Sofi, or even Valshok. I still hate being a blood relative of those people, Jerome's bloodline. Anyway, I'm still on the fence about whether I should be angry at you or not, save that I have a feeling this isn't just a base treachery...the Tremor House of the Order of Magi knew I was connected to the Valken House. Naturally they'd seek to place one of their own as close to the Valken as possible-"
"But no one knew HOW close you were," Williams grins, "Fine then. Keep calling me Williams then. Yeah, Sofi, I'm more or less a double agent...though the order came from the Grand Magus himself. For what it's worth, I've never used our friendship to glean information from you, only whatever info I could gather from Jerome. 'The Patriarch,'" he snorted and leaned back, crossing a leg over his knee as he lounged, relaxing in her presence, "What a pretentious ass. It would've been far better if Rubes there had taken over his half-brother's position...in the very least, the Valken House would be rid of it's disgusting ambition."
At the mention of his name, Magus Arch Rubes stopped feigning sleep and grinned at Williams, leaning up with Sofia's help, his beautiful face wincing in pain, "I guess I could get nothing past you, Tyler. And I find it funny that I agree with you, all the way down to these ridiculous alternate names and such."
Williams lifted an eyebrow, "Well...I prefer 'Arch Rubes' to 'Jarrod Valken' anyday. It's too close to your half-brother's name."
Rubes frowned prettily, "Half only because my mother is such a whirling bitch with an eye for power. The Elfheim still hasn't forgiven or forgotten her little power move that robbed them of so much control in Los Angeles. Ol' Leggy Jerry keeps me around just as a trophy anyway."
Sofia blinked at the revelation as Williams laughed, "Sofi, don't you realize? I'd like to claim we're using the Shop, but it's more like we're asking them for help indirectly. The Valken House has been making moves that are explicitly against the Order of Magi's acceptable boundaries....and I, for one, am more than willing to go along with Tremor House's and the Grand Magus's will when it comes to bringing them back to some kind of fair and legal stance."
Sofia frowned, "So for years you both have known each other's real name's and never filled me in? Huh. And what about Preston?"
Williams frowned deeply as Rubes winced, hissing in pain and clutching at his ribs, "That was an unfortunate placement to our team. What should have been our original team - myself and Williams with you as our lead, Sofi - was changed at the last second a year ago and Preston placed within our ranks from orders 'up above'...which, naturally, turned out to be our darling Jerome. Warren," Rubes grinned at his friend, "Didn't you receive a last second placement in your team when you were ordered to make one?"
"Don't call me that," Williams frowned, "I kinda like being Tyler to you guys. Hell, it's my Magus name anyway...yeah, we did. The Ricketts twins I picked personally, because of how steadfast and consistent they were, bein' of a weird Ra'zer-Tremor house crossbreed. Plus I wanted to have some heavy-hittin' specialists at my back with Elemental and Combat magia experience. Tourmy is something of an ex-girlfriend of mine, and is really good at scrying and illusory Magia, and is completely loyal to me. Jennings, on the other hand...I suspected 'Denise Jennings' the moment she was placed on our roster."
"Denise Jennings, bah...that'd be my half-cousin there, Darling Valken," Rubes chuckled then winced, Sofia helping him to drink the delectable broth before allowing him to continue, "I knew there was something strange about the way she sounded in the report. So, she's under lock and key...good. But I have to say something, to the both of you," Rubes' soft gaze suddenly hardened into a glare, "The reason why Ty is talking to us here is because he suspects a sleeper...don't you, Ty?"
Williams closed his eyes and grunted, a pleased grin on his face, "Indeed. Or rather, I should say Mister Hopkins suspects a sleeper...as does his cohort. I'm here to vouch for you, and getting you to admit to everything is one part of the plan - Mister Hopkins has the innate ability to tell if a person is lying or not, and so, by concatenation, does their ethereal computer, Control. I'll explain later," he held up a hand, noting their piqued interest, "Suffice it to say, the both of you coming this far also means you're ready to throw your hats into the ring as well, yes? I can work it out with Mister Hopkins, but he'll require you guys to actually ask him to give you sanctuary."
Sofia blinked at him, realization dawning on her, "You think he's going to succeed...the Shop is going to succeed? Their defenses are down-"
"The gargoyle clan patrols the streets and the rooftops," Williams cut in suddenly.
"But they lack the sheer numbers of the Assassin Corps-"
"Mister Hopkins alone can take on an entire army on his own, let alone a series of skulking assassins," Williams sniffed lightly, slightly affronted.
"But they have no true magical defenses here-"
"And if you haven't noticed, all magic seems to do is incite Mister Hopkins to further heights of maddened battle capability and bloodlust," Williams stood up at that, his hands sliding into his jean pockets with a cocky smile, "He is...magnificent to behold!"
Rubes looked from one to the other as Sofia shivered, half in fear and half impressed, "Indeed. If they can survive the last wave, the entire cadre of the Assassin Corps, then there will be nothing left the Valken House can do to get us back outside of pay the ransom...and if we've claimed sanctuary afterwards, there's nothing they can do, is there?"
"Wait, wait," Rubes waved a hand, something dawning on him, "Who's idea was this? To allow us sanctuary, to force the Valken House to pay ransom yet deny them their vengeance...all I wanted to do was see to it that Jerome's psychotic advancements were halted."
"Why, Mister Hopkins says he and Mister Todd came up with this idea a month or two ago," Williams grinned, "Individually, both of them are frightening men. Together...well, this is way more fun then dealing with the depravities of either the Order OR the Valken House!"
To be concluded in Mayhem Arc Part Two!
The Generalist – Taboo 2: Magic and Mayhem (Part 1 of The Mayhem Arc)